SEATTLE – The Seattle Sounders still have a long way to go if they want to make a second-half run back into postseason contention. But in their 2-0 Cascadia Cup victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps at CenturyLink Field on Saturday, they finally got their first look at the player they hope will spark that surge.
New Designated Player signing Raul Ruidiaz entered Saturday’s match in the 61st minute, making his league debut in front of a crowd of 41,849 fans at CenturyLink who had been eagerly awaiting their first glimpse at the shiny new acquisition.
Despite finishing his half-hour shift scoreless, the Peruvian striker showed glimpses of the dynamic skillset that made him one of the most productive goal-scorers in Liga MX over the past two seasons and convinced the Sounders to sign him to a DP contract.
“He’s a talented player,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said after the game. “He’s good on the ball. You guys saw his technical ability is very clean. His ability to, in certain moments, just play and connect passes stylistically is like Liga MX. So, that helped us in this particular game. He’s goal-dangerous, so his movement in the box, even though he didn’t score, was good. So, overall very pleased with the way his debut started.”
Ruidiaz almost found a debut goal that would have sent the home crowd into bedlam in the 68th minute after getting on the end of a pinpoint feed from Nicolas Lodeiro that left him with a clean look on Vancouver goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic.
Marinovic ended up blocking the shot, but the sequence was still an intriguing early glimpse at the complimenting skillsets between Seattle’s star playmaker and their new striker. Lodeiro has been one of the most effective throughball artists in MLS since he first came to the league in 2016, a trait Schmetzer hopes will prove to be an ideal compliment to Ruidiaz’s pace, athleticism and eye for making runs behind opposing backlines.
“I absolutely loved that play,” Schmetzer said. “What I would say is the common denominator is that Nico has always been a good guy about trying to pick his head up and trying to play guys in. It’s almost like he needs to just balance that killer ball versus possession, which I thought he did a really good job of today.
“So, I loved the soccer today. I thought there was many, many good moments of possession that didn’t end up with a goal and there was many, many moments of good transition where we were able to get quality attacks.”
Ruidiaz still only has a handful of training sessions with the team in addition to Saturday’s debut. But at a point in a goal-starved season when the Sounders are in dire need of a psychological boost, defender Kelvin Leerdam said he and his teammates all felt the palpable buzz in the building following Ruidiaz’s entry.
“I think everybody could hear how excited the fans were,” Leerdam said. “It’s a new signing, so everybody needs to get adjusted to him on the pitch and we’ve tried to do that at training, so we can learn about him. I know that he likes to [score] a lot, so I hope he [keeps taking] that into the games.”